Running around in Merida

The 7th, 9th and 10th of August 2015

Nearly every evening during the summer months, there are performances in the parks around the old centre in Merida. Sometimes a band is playing and people are challenging the heat by showing off their best performance. Another evening, in another park, dances are performed by different groups in costume, from different regions.DSC00955DSC00953

Trovadores (troubadours) are performing in another park on another evening. Friday evening is set for the Pok A Tok, in front of the Cathedral. This was a sacred ball game from the Mayan people and it started with a ritual performance. The teams were not allowed to touch the ball, only with their hips or chest etc. and the ball had to be thrown through a ring, which was so difficult , that one game could take days. It was attended by important people (chiefs and kings) and the captain of the team that lost, was often beheaded.DSC00756

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On the 9th, I went to “The Great Mayan World Museum”, which is situated in a new and modern building in Northern Merida. I was a little bit confused, which bus I had to take. From where I am staying, you just walk to the main road and hop on a local bus, which is going up-North, but not all the buses are stopping at the museum. The best thing is to take a bus to Grand Plaza (a shopping mall) and walk the last few meters, though there are two buses, which will stop very close to the museum and a friendly lady, who was waiting at the same spot where I was standing, informed me about that. People are all very helpful here and I needed them, on the many occasions that I got lost.

The museum is divided in two departments, one is scientific and art related (a lot about the “birth” of Yucatan, astronomy, meteors and dinosaurs) and the other is the Mayan department. It tells you about the way of living of the Mayan people in former times and nowadays. A very interesting and interactive museum. To see all it has to offer, you can easily spend aDSC00804couple of hours in the lovely air-conditioned rooms.

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On Monday the 10th, I took the local bus to Dzibilchaltun, a place North of Merida, where you can find many Mayan buildings, among them “The Temple Of The Seven Dolls”, named so, as they found 7 dolls inside its chamber. Dzibilchaltun means in Mayan language “The Place of Scriptures on Flat Stones. To find out, how to go to Dzibilchaltun, was an excursion itself. On one of my walks, I found a tourist information kiosk with a huge poster on the window, informing that there are now special buses straight to this place for 150 pesos, return ticket. The guy inside told me I could get the ticket at Park St. Lucia and the bus went three times a week. So next day I went downtown to buy the ticket. When I finally found the tour operator, they told me that due to the low season, those buses don’t go, but I better should ask the main tourist office on the Plaza Grande. There, they told me to go to Park St. Lucia! Oh well, I was there already? Then I better should go to the local bus station from Progreso and get a ticket to Chablecal and then go with a mototaxi to Dzibilchaltun. I thought I better go and investigate where the bus station was situated. It was easy to find and just a short walk from the Grand Plaza. Once there, a sign said “daily buses to Dzibilchaltun, except Sundays”!!! So, I went back with this information to the tourist office and they were very grateful to get this information, as many tourists had asked about this trip……..Why I, as a tourist, had to inform DSC00875them about the bus schedule to a famous tourist attraction????

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So on the morning of the 10th, I got up at 5.45 and packed a bag with my camera, water, a hat and sunglasses.  At 6.30 I got immediately the bus into town and walked to the bus station, where I had to stand in line for the bus. The ticket had to be bought in the bus and gosh, I was happy to be on time, as it became packed! I paid the amount of 14 pesos for a one way (better than the 150 pesos!!!) and asked the chauffeur to let me know where to get off. I noticed that often people shout “baja”, which means “getting off”. The ruins are only around 20 km from Merida, but as the bus stops every 5 min. to load or unload people, the trip took about an hour! Once arrived, I had to walk another 15 minutes from the main street to the entrance of the park. I was the first visitor of the day and the park just opened! They also allowed me to bring in my shopping bag, while everywhere it says that no bags are allowed, only swimming gear, in case you want to swim in the Cenote (underwater sinkhole). In Dzibilchaltun, you walk into another world……. Very pretty and interesting and wonderful to be the only visitor for at least one hour! Lots of birds singing and many iguanas.  The heat was getting unbearable and that was another reason I was pleased to be so early. I didn’t go for a swim, but watched the only other 2 guests having a dip.DSC00853

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The cenote “Xlakah”, which means “Old Town”, has been the center of religious rites and also provided water to the settlement. The only disappointment was, that the museum was closed on Mondays! That wasn’t mentioned in the Yucatan Magazine. Supposingly, the museum here is very interesting. So by 10.30 I was completely steaming of the heat and I walked the long road to the main street again, this time using my umbrella against the sun. Once on the main road, there was immediately a moto taxi, which is a type of bike with a motor and a seating place at the front. He dropped me off at Chablecal, where I was so lucky to find a bus to Merida in a few minutes time and the bus dropped me off  on the Avenida 60, very close to my casita. Within two hours it started pouring, with severe thunder! So glad I got up early today!

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Three in one; a very cultural day in Merida!

The 4th of August, 2015

Today, the Cultural Centre Olimpo is open and I start with a visit to one of the three exhibition places. Portraits of Mozes, Ghandi and Mother Theresa…..Another room with paintings, which were not my style. The third room was just fun. The way different “artists”, if you want to call them artists, made their garden into a special living place, with lots going on and using all kind of colours and materials. In their section, enormous pictures of the artists, working in their own place. In the midst of the different displays, a hairdresser, who is cutting your hair for 3 US$, while he is singing the Italian songs he plays on his exhibition stand. It was just a very crazy showcase, this room, but for sure the three guys, who were “on guard” had fun! According to one, especially while interacting with the public……..DSC00655

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From Olimpo, it is just a few meters walking to the Palacio del Gobierno (governments building), where I had already a short visit during my first day here in Merida, but this time I wanted to spend some more time learning about the history from Yucatan and the Mayan people, all expressed in the beautiful murals of Fernando Castro Pacheco, who is from Merida. We saw his work already in the Municipality Museum, but here his work is on every floor of the building present and tells you so much about the suffering of the people, their religion and their legends (the birth of man, is through a stalk of corn). Besides the impressive murals, there is this soft green coloured building with many arches and enormous red ceramic pots filled with palm trees. What a gorgeous setting! DSC00502

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From the Palacio del Gobierno, I walk via Parque St. Lucia and Parque St. Ana to the Paseo de Montejo.  Opposite park St. Ana, I find a very small and simple eatery, called “Jardin Santana”, where I have a pollo “Yucatan”, a water and a beer, all for 70 pesos ($4.20). I even get taco’s with avocado, as appetizer. Very nice staff and an “interesting” bathroom.

The Paseo de Montejo is called by some “the Champs Elysees of Yucatan”. It is a wide avenue, with pavements covered by trees. On every intersection there are statues and further up the Paseo you will find the impressive “Monumento a la Patria”. The houses along the Paseo are beautiful historical buildings from Spanish and French architecture. Mostly owned by banking firms or turned into hotels, others are in state of demolish and often for sale.DSC00722DSC00710DSC00709

Once walking up the Paseo, I decide to just continue my walk and see if I can make it home by feet. As long as you have water with you and don’t do these kind of things in the middle of the day, it is a nice “hike”. I will do this more often!

The big mercado in downtown Merida

The 2nd of August, 2015

Today it is Sunday and Merida’s downtown will be closed off for traffic, to give pedestrians and cyclists the chance to explore the downtown area and the famous Paseo de Montejo (with it’s beautiful old mansions and monuments) in a very relaxing way. That’s the reason that my friend Liz decides to show me a little bit more of the city by car, as it will be quiet even on the outskirts of downtown this morning. So we drive from East to West and I get to see the 300.000 US$ homes, which is here the expensive neighbourhood, the gated communities, the shopping plazas and the middle class neighbourhoods.DSC00581

We visit Itzimna, which was in the colonial era a separate village, just like the area where I am situated, Chiburna de Hidalgo. The church of Itzimna is simple, but beautiful. The houses around the park are old neo classical style mansions.  DSC00586DSC00585

After our drive, we park the car in a designated parking area, close to downtown and first walk to the Museum of the City of Merida, which is in the vicinity of the Plaza Grande and in the former post office; a beautiful colourful building, with downstairs an exhibition of the past of Merida and upstairs a changing exhibition of a specific artist. A very helpful staff and free entree. After the cool air of the museum, we decided to visit the indoor market of Merida. I haven’t visited the market yet and it is a daily happening, divided over different buildings and just enormous! A variety of things for sale, from vegetables and fruits, to dogfood and animals, meat and chickens and shoes…..There is even a guy singing right in the middle of the stalls.DSC00618

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Somewhere in a corner we meet this cheerful lady, who makes little baby shoes. It takes her 4 hours to make a pair and she asks 50 pesos for one pair (around 3US$).  I can’t resist to buy two pairs; one for Liz and one for myself. As a souvenir……I enjoy the smiles of the people and all those different faces. I definitely will go back! Remarkable is the lack of tourists or foreigners. Just nobody!

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DSC00606After our visit, we need to eat and drink something. The heat is hitting hard. There are little eateries set up for the Sunday, outside the market, close to Casa de Montejo on the Plaza Grande. Here we drink a Horchata (rice milk) and Jamaica (juice from the Hibiscus flower).  We have some sopes, this time with pavo (turkey) and picadillo (minced meat).

DSC00635A family puts their very small children down at a table. The parents are dressed as clowns and have to try to get some money with making funny balloons and just asking the people to help out. Later they all have a meal together. The mother was nearly fainting from the heat.DSC00631

Everybody tries to earn some money here. Old guys are packing groceries at the supermarkets for the clients, who will give them 5 pesos a bag (or more). People have to, as often there is no pension. Also the people, who collect the garbage, get at least 10 pesos a bag. The only problem is that you never know when and if they will show up. Sometimes they come very late in the evening on a totally different date.

Liz and I decide to go to an exhibition in the Cultural Centre Olimpo. It turned out it is closed. Musea are closed on Sundays or Mondays or Tuesdays, so you better check on forehand, although you can’t always trust what is mentioned on the internet.

We decide just to stroll around and slowly make our way to the car again. I feel my legs and feet, as this heat is having an impact on the body. The thought of a dip in the swimmingpool makes us decide to “call it a day”.

A town with many faces; Merida, Mexico

The 30th of July, 2015

It is hot here in Merida in the summer. I like to take the bus end of the day into town and enjoy all the festivities, organized to keep the locals, as well as the tourists happy. Every evening, there are performances. They change from park to park, but all on walking distance from the historical centre. Tonight, the “Serenata Yucateca” takes place in Parque Santa Lucia. I am early, as first I just want to stroll around the Plaza Grande, where so many people are gathering at this time of the evening. It has wi-fi, so many are sitting on the benches, focussing on their phones. Children are feeding the doves and many vendors are trying to sell something, not only to foreigners from abroad, but also to Mexicans from other cities, who are here on holiday. I am walking with my camera, ready to snap a shot, as so much is going on here in the Plaza. Later, I sit down for a drink, but get attacked by the sales people. Next time, I will not sit on a terrace at the Plaza Grande at this time a day!  I go with the flow to the park and it is packed with people. On the other side of the street, there is the St. Lucia church and at the side of the church people are enjoying a barbecue meal. I wonder if everybody can join that meal, after paying.DSC00568                    DSC00564

Most came early to get a seat at the front, but I am standing at the back on an elevation, to try to take at least one picture of the orchestra. A Mexican starts a conversation with me. I am alert. Finally, the music starts, but after the first tunes, they change it into poetry. By that time, the Mexican man wants to know if I have children and how many and tells me he never married and he doesn’t have children. That’s the moment I realize I didn’t eat yet and I swiftly disappear into the crowd. The poetry is still going on and I decide to hop in the first eatery, before I will faint. The restaurant is great, as there are only Mexicans, which means it has a local menu. These weeks, I want to try as much as possible, from the Mexican / Yucatan menu. My waiter is very helpful and patient. I ask him about the local beer and he also helps me to choose from the menu, as everything is a ? for me. He kindly warns me that the two separate bowls with sauces are quite “picante”…..well, I am used to the Indonesian Sambal, but these sauces are HOT! I enjoy my meal with chicken and my SOL beer and the price is not even US$7. By the time I leave the restaurant, it is already 10.30 p.m. and the last bus goes around 11.00. This time I catch a minibus; it is the same price, but you can get seasick! Everybody is squeezed together and they go fast and it is a pretty bumpy ride! I had to watch where to get out, as everybody seemed to be going way up north. I was the only one, who had to call “STOP”!!!DSC00553

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The 31st of July, 2015

At time of my arrival in Merida, I met a friend of the family, Liz. We immediately got along fine. Liz asks me, if i would like to go with her to one of the many Flea Markets in the city. I never say NO to a flea market. I LOVE markets in general. We drive in the morning to a total different part of the city, to Plaza Esperanza. Wow, it is huge…..mainly clothing, handbags, some shoes, toys and no, no antiques. You really have to start searching, as you can find some brand name clothing for a bargain. I just like to see how popular these markets are and how much fun it is, although the heat is intense under the covers, with so many overheated people…….Finally, we buy a fresh juice from a vendor, we sit down at an eatery right on the market and order sopes (type of tortilla) with filling of cactus (nopales) and chicken. So yummy! Price not even US$1 for one. After the market, we have a stop at the supermarket, as now with the car I can stock up a bit more. Walking in the heat with your shopping is no fun!DSC00576

The 1st of August, 2015

Today, I worked the whole day on the computer and around the house. It is very hot and it looks like it will rain soon. Around 6.00 p.m. I take the bus into town and it starts pouring. Immediately the streets are changing into swimming pools! Once downtown, everybody is squeezed under roofs and store entrances. I was prepared and brought an umbrella! First, I go shoe shopping. Somewhere, behind the Cathedral, are many shoe stores. I find sandals and nice walking shoes. It is cheap. The sandals are leather and more expensive; US$22…..the other ones are cheaper, but very comfortable; US$9.

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Now I am heading for Parque Santa Ana and it’s church with the same name. It is all on walking distance, as long as you are able to stroll a 20 minutes in the heat. I pass a few antique stores and a cozy Italian restaurant. It is a little bit dark in the streets here, but I don’t feel uncomfortable. Once in the park, there is a huge artisan market and at the beginning of the Paseo de Montejo, the Mexican night is held. Lots of different costumes and dances and an enthusiastic Mexican crowd. I buy from an older man two masks, which he made himself. He also made rocking chairs for children and a little school desk. He is so happy that I bought something and I am just happy to see the smile on his face. There is a lot of competition here for the vendors, but I noticed that the Mexican tourists do buy quite some souvenirs.  DSC00100

Later, I go to have a look at the Santa Ana church and see inviting little eateries with terraces in front of them and realize I haven’t eaten yet. This time I get an enormous glass of green lemonade (cactus juice?) and some sopes with different fillings for around US$4.  Once back in the historical centre, it is packed with people! Everywhere musicians are playing; I hear Cuban music (Son) and Mariachi and Cumbia and many other styles. People are all eating and drinking and the ambiente is great! Then I meet Liz by coincidence……we decide to go to Panchos, on calle 59. It looks from the outside as there is nobody, but at the back there is a patio garden and it is wonderful to have some quiet time, after the hectic “outside world”. The last buses have gone, when we finally head home, so we take a taxi, which cost us around US$ 5 in total.

What a great night this was! So many impressions again!

Ten days in Merida and loving it!

26th of July, 2015

My first outing here in Merida, is just around the corner; the Sunday flea and vegetable market in Colonial Chuburna de Hidalgo, on walking distance, although still an effort in the heat with two heavy shopping bags! I walk through the neighbourhood, which is a mixture of simple houses and here and there a high wall, with a gorgeous house behind it. Some little stores, a banquet hall (of all places), a tortilleria and many churches. People here are religious, although they might not always follow the rules of the church. The flea market is mainly clothing and very cheap. Here and there you can find some nice brands and something, which is not synthetic. By now the heat is nearly unbearable, but still people are trying to fit shirts and dresses over their own clothing and only the thought of it makes me transpire! I just buy a few things without trying and it is so cheap, that even if it doesn’t fit, it is not the end of the world. A guy gets arrested and they literally drag him to the car, handcuffed. He screams. Later, I hear that people, who live here for years, never witnessed such a thing, so my presence might be to blame? Overall, the atmosphere is great. The church started it’s Sunday service and it is held outside, as of the heat. People are waving their “abanicos” to get some relief and the singing is uplifting, although the speakers with Mexican Reggaeton music from the market place, are interfering with the holy music. On the other side of the street, is inside a hall, the market. There you can get fruits and vegetables, honey and fish and lots of chicken in all sizes. It is way cheaper here than in the Supermercado. Outside are tables where you can eat and drink fresh juices and lemonades. Later in the week, I noticed that no event is held without the opportunity to eat and drink, but mainly juices and coca cola, no alcohol! I buy some fruits, veggies and a small bottle of honey and outside the market place is a stall with a fruit called Pitaya. I have never seen it. Immediately the young seller let me try; it is yummy! An older man explains that in Japan they pay 150$ for one! I paid around 1$ for three! You can eat it with the juice of a lime and some salt (the way you eat Avocado or Aguacate) or some people eat it with a boiled egg. Never use it in a blender, he tells me, as the aroma will disappear.DSC00482                         DSC00483

On my way home, I witness a service in a church, where people are singing and dancing, with the door wide open. That is the church I like! While watching, they invite me in and there I am, with two big shopping bags, moving on the music………After 10 minutes or so, I excuse myself, pointing on my shopping bags, but first I get kisses of all the ladies, with and without sweat. I tell them I will be back, but until now I haven’t kept my promise……..

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Today, I will go by bus to downtown Merida, to join a walking tour around the Plaza Grande. Taking the bus is easy and cheap, only around 0.45$ for a trip. I will use the bus many times in the coming days. I first visit the tourist information office and subscribe myself for the walking tour, which will start at 9.30. This event is free, like many other events the city DSC00537organizes. We will only visit the buildings around the Plaza and our guide tells us so much about the history, that the one and half hour are gone in no time. After, I get a little bit familiar with the roads in the historical centre, treat myself on a fruit salad and coffee and take the bus home, when it is getting too hot. The bus drops me off at the Mega Supermarket and I walk home with two heavy bags of groceries, in the heat. Very happy that this house has a swimming pool!DSC00486

28th of July

Today I visit the dentist office. Not that there are any issues, but I foresee that I can’t go to my regular check up, as I will be in another part of Canada in September. Also, if the dentist does find any repairs to do, I better have it fixed here, as the fees are quite different from the ones in Canada! This time I take a taxi and as the dental office is opposite the Star Medical Clinic, it is easy to find. I am impressed, as the office is new and clean and the staff is polite and friendly. They all seem very knowledgeable and I get a check up by the dentist and a thorough cleaning from the assistant and all for US$22.00! I ask a list with prices and an implant will cost around US$ 700.00, a porcelain crown around US$ 215.00 and a crown over an implant around US$ 280.00. Well, we are all getting older and better to be prepared!

The dental office is the neighbourhood of a shopping plaza and I decide to have a look at some stores and prices and enjoy at the same time the airconditioning, as by now the temperature has reached nearly 38 degrees. It is funny to see a C&A and Sears with clothing according to the Mexican way. A lot of blouses with decorations! It is all very affordable, cheaper than in Canada for sure, although a friend tells me later, that the better brands are way cheaper in the US.

I also visit the Star Medical Hospital, just to see if I could make an appointment with a specialist in case of……..No problem, there is a list with Dr’s for all the different specialisms and you can google them and call for an appointment or mail them. I think every specialism in the hospital has around 10 Dr’s, so there must be a lot of competition! They will be happy to see you………

The next two days I will have to be around the house, as the gardener, the pool guy and the cleaning lady are all coming.

My next visit to downtown will be on Thursday evening, for the music in one of the parcs.

From Sabalito, Costa Rica to Merida in Mexico

23rd of July,

On one of my last days in Sabalito, I take some pictures, while walking the dogs and I finally do see Volcan Arenal at the far end of the lake.DSC00392DSC00406DSC00399

Most of the time, it is hidden behind the clouds. One of the cows has escaped again, while the others are walking in line to the farm, for the milking process.

I collect Johanna from the busstation in Tilaran on the 22nd and now she and the dogs are bringing me to Tilaran on the 23rd, where I will hop on the bus, for a 4 hour drive to San Jose. I start hating these “saying goodbyes”, not only from the host, but from the animals as well! I think “Blue” was really feeling blue, as he first moved to the other side of the car, when I wanted to give him a cuddle and later he looked me right in the face, when driving away and his eyes were so sad, that I nearly cried……..

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The bus drive went fast and was way more interesting than the drive from Liberia. Green and lushy, curvy roads through the mountains (I even didn’t get sick!) and a nice in between stop after two hours, at a good and clean restaurant. At least the bus ticket prices stayed very low in comparison with the prices of products in the stores. 4015 Colones (around 8 US$) for a bus ticket of 4 hours is very reasonable!

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Once in San Jose, I took a taxi for $2 to my airport hotel and had a quick supper in one of those terrible American chain restaurants, with bad quality food and way too expensive. I rather had my Tico rice with beans! At 3.00 a.m. my wake up call arrived, but by that time I was already running around……

The shuttle bus brought me and two other guests to the airport and there it was pretty empty. There are no signs where to go to. You just have to check all the counters! Aero Mexico was hidden in a corner. I remembered from former times, that I first had to pay airport taxes. Enough people there, so I paid the US$29, got the receipt and arrived as first person at the AM counter. Immediately, I had to fill in a form. Then I got all these questions; my Dutch passport and Canadian residence card made it a little bit complicated in the early morning. There was the big question; “Do you have proof of leaving Mexico again?” Pffffff, so happy I bought already a ticket from Cancun to Toronto. Even printed it! Another two forms to fill in for the Mexican immigration and after that, it all went quickly and I joined the rest of the crowd at the coffee store, to get some caffeine. Only 4.30 a.m……….

Mexico City:

After a beautiful and low flight right over Mexico City (gosh, that city is enormous and so much smog!!!), we landed right at an airport in the city itself. I didn’t expect that, but it turned out that Aero Mexico has nowadays it’s own airport, Terminal 2. Terminal 1 is outside the city and is for all the other Airliners. Upon arrival, I knew that I had to collect my checked luggage again. They told me that in San Jose. So first you go with one of the forms and passport to an officer and then to the belt. It was not very clear where you had to go to after, but I went straight from the belt to the scanner and after with the other immigration form to another officer, then with my checked luggage to a guy, who took it over and tried (after a nice conversation) to get a tip!  I thought he was joking, so I laughed, but later I heard that everybody in Mexico wants to be tipped for whatever they do or don’t do! Next stop was another officer, who checked my passport and ticket again and then we got again a scanner for again the hand luggage, but this time not only the computer, but also the camera and phone and e-reader had to be taken out. Are we done yet??? Yes, we are done!!! Nice cozy new airport, very unclear where you have to go to. Last hour they inform you about the gate number and I had seen only one wing of the departure hall, so I sat myself there to have lunch and later I noticed that my flight was leaving from a different wing of the airport and it turned out to be quite a distance. Lucky, my plane was too late…..DSC00462

From Mexico City to Merida, Yucatan is only a little bit more that an hour flight time. Once there, no controls anymore and within no time I hopped in a taxi, after verifying the costs to my address. The first thing I saw on my way into the city, were two army trucks, full of armed soldiers…….

It took a while before the poor taxi driver found the address. All streets are numbered, but that doesn’t make it easier. They are not always numbered in a logical way. In the coming days I have to get familiar with my neighborhood!

The present house sitters were there to welcome me and they made me a wonderful barbecue meal. Very welcome after two days of traveling! They had only a few hours to inform me about the daily duties and to show me around. In the early morning I got some last instructions regarding the garden and the cat and then I was on my own in my new house sit address, in a country I had never been before! Exciting!!!